Bugs

New sightings under the shop light

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Checking the wall under the shop light this morning, there were the usual suspects (the black and white dotted moths, spruce worm moths, and other regulars), but among them, someone was busy last night laying these eggs – amazing coppery pearls that would make a handsome necklace were they really pearls. I will definitely have to keep an eye on these to see how things develop.

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And there was this guy – a grasshopper like I’ve never noticed before – those striped legs caught my attention  before it was light enough to take photos. Luckily, he obliged by sticking around until shooting light.

Just a couple of new finds to start the day. Have a good one!

Phenology Report: moths

UnderTheShopLightJuly2013

It feels good to be home long enough to get a handle on where things are, phenology-wise. We arrived home from our trip to already be well into the monsoon season – and it’s been a good one so far. Beautiful crisp mornings give way to the warming of the day that builds clouds. They drop rain in the afternoon and evenings, cooling it down into the 50s for a good night’s sleep. If the pattern holds true to years past, the monsoons will let up sometime in August, giving us the warm days (and still cooler nights) where things will start to cure out.

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been watching the moths under the shop light each morning – not taking photos of everything, but getting a good sampling of which varieties show up. Usually the wall of the shop is pretty well covered each morning. But the other morning, we had hardly any. At first I thought it was just the rain overnight – and that had an impact, I’m sure, but the lack of them continued even after nights of no rain.

Then the other day while sitting on the deck reading, I found myself noticing a whole heap of birds around – all of them pretty much silent except for some bluebird fledgelings. Even the usual noisy Steller’s Jay was quietly working its way around a tree. I know they’re supposed to be silent while nesting, so maybe that’s at least his or her excuse. I noticed a host of Pygmy Nuthatches, chickadees and a few others including a Cordilleran Flycatcher (formerly known as a Western Flycatcher). The day before I saw a Western Tanager less than a quarter mile up the road from the house. Getting up early the next morning, I noticed the early birds catching the moths on the shop.

What brought in all these birds now? The hatching of the Spruce worm moths (reminder to self: write down that they hatched on week #29 of 2013).

A Spruce Worm Moth emerging from its crysalis

A Spruce Worm Moth emerging from its crysalis

Almost every spruce and fir tree around is full of them – but not quite as full as last year. Watching the birds feasting on them in all various stages has helped to knock down their numbers a bit. I’m sure we’ll still lose a few spruce trees to them, but others might make it through with the help of the birds.

One of thousands of Spruce Worm Moths in the area.

One of thousands of Spruce Worm Moths in the area.

Friday Phenology 17-29 Nov 2012

“‘May all your hours be sunny’ is another way of saying ‘May you perish in the drought.’”

~Edwin Way Teale from his book, A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm

It’s dry. This last week we’ve seen humidity some days in the single digits. It’s warm. Most days lately reach well into the 50s. I cannot stress enough how much I despise brown winters. As the sun rises lower into the sky each day, it becomes more and more uncomfortable to be outside and facing south. Blinds are pulled. On the days we’ve had clouds, the blinds are open and my eyes relax.

The volunteer pansies are still blooming in the window box beside the window where I sit. Blooms freeze overnight, but invariably by afternoon, more appear. I probably need to give them a bit of water along with the rest of the garden that’s been neglected for too long.

A couple of weeks ago, we had a regular morning flock of about 20-30 Evening Grosbeaks show up on a daily basis. That number has at least doubled. While outside this morning, the sound of them cracking open the black oil sunflower seeds and letting the shells drop to the ground sounded almost like rain. The Mountain Chickadees and Pygmy Nuthatches are definitely getting comfortable with us. While filling the bird bath with water this morning, one of the Mountain Chickadees kept flying in, landing, and flying off, just inches from me. The Pygmy Nuthatches almost need to be brushed off before I can fill the feeders at times. All of them, though, ascend in a group to the safety of the tree near the feeders at the first audible ‘quark’ from a Raven.

We also had a visit from a lone Red-Winged Blackbird. Normally they don’t come over the ridge that separates our road from the next one which has a stream. I haven’t really checked the stream water level recently, but I imagine it’s down. Perhaps he just joined the Grosbeaks to see where they went. He did visit the birdbath as well. Kind of unusual for them to still be hanging around up here at the end of November (photo taken the 27th through double paned windows, so not the greatest, but enough to ID and document).

In my last Friday Phenology report I mentioned about how the Evening Grosebeaks eat the spruce worms. Between the Grosbeaks, Chickadees and Nuthatches, I’ve noticed when it gets warm (and the feeders have been drained for the day), they move to the trees and mainly work on the branch tips. Mainly spruces and firs – the ones that were absolutely covered in spruce moths this last summer. An infected tree usually will have a few tips that grow curled in the spring.

But the Blue Spruce next to the house has many branch tips that look like this:

So do the Douglas Fir trees:

Obviously they are finding food there. It will be interesting to see how those branches grow next spring. I image without the needles, if we do get the week or two of deep freeze in January or February, those brand buds may not have the protection they need to make it through.

The trail cam this week was fairly active – showing the deer are still in rut.

Trail Cam 23-29 Nov 2012 from Janet White on Vimeo.

Get out there and learn and explore. Watch your world and look into the things you find interesting. You don’t want to end up not knowing enough like this. It’s just amazing how the deer cross our road in about the same spot all the time without a deer crossing sign!

Friday Phenology – Week 41

This week started out chilly with a killing frost. On Saturday Night the low reached 20° F which was enough to wilt the blooms on the Martha Washington geranium that has graced our front deck this summer. We also had heavy fog that night, and by the time the sun started to rise, heavy frost made it a glittering world. Most enchanting were the aspen leaves – lined with white spikes of frost.

Each day there are fewer leaves on the aspen trees – I’d guess we’re down 20-25% of the leaves left on the trees which dwindles more rapidly here at the tail end of the fall color season. At this point, I said goodbye to the summer plants and look forward to a world of white to come. We still have a bit of firewood to split and stack, but we’re almost ready on many fronts for the winter.

While we were up in Yellowstone, the robins and other summer birds must have taken off for their winter homes. The cold brought in most all of the usual suspects that make up our winter flock: Evening Grosbeaks, Mountain Chickadees, Pygmy Nuthatches, Red Breasted Nuthatches and of course the White Breasted Nuthatches, Stellers Jays, Clark’s Nutcrackers, Dark-eyed Juncos, Cassin’s Finches, Pine Siskens and a new addition of a pair of Gray Jays. Today I’ll need to make a trip to get more birdseed – especially with the Jays and Nutcrackers and squirrels chomping away greedily at anything put out.

One curious item we’ve noticed and talked about here is the large number of Green Lacewings we’re seeing. TONS of them outside and inside. I’ve been looking up information on them and the adults are said to drink nectar. They might do that, but we’re seeing them also dining on the fruit flies – and years ago I watched this one during mid summer dine on aphids that were thick.

The aphids (or at least I think they’re aphids) have lined the aspen leaves for much of the summer, so that might account for the lacewing’s prolific numbers. Here’s a photo of some taken at the end of August – I found more even on the yellow leaves just before the frost. If you do know what these are, I sure would love to know.

Today may bring some rain and snow showers – either way, they’re calling for thunder and lightning. A day to bundle up and head out to enjoy the exercise from splitting and stacking wood. I’ve gotten much accomplished in the past few days, but my body is telling me it’s time to step away from the computer for a bit and get myself moving.

What’s up in your neck of the woods this week?

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This post is shared on A Rural Journal where each Thursday a blog hop of Rural Thursday posts link up.

Moth Mystery – solved?

Time for another page from my field Journal:

Just couldn’t sleep no matter what. While laying in bed, staring at the ceiling, awake – again – I finally decided it wasn’t going to work.

I headed downstairs to get some milk. 1 AM – ugh. Even though I work from home as a freelancer and set my own hours, I knew this lack of sleep would pretty much wipe out the day for me as concentration on projects would be difficult. As I sat at the dining room table, drinking the glass of milk I poured, I watched the yard light with all the moths fluttering about. Then I saw it – a bat. And another. They swooped in so fast that if you blinked, you might miss them as they fed on those moths fluttering about. I’d have to tell the neighbor, Deb, as she was asking not long ago if we had bats. I said we probably did, though it’s been awhile since I watched them under the yard light. We used to see bats every night not long after sundown, but we’d watch for them specifically. I haven’t been looking in particular for bats so they may have been there all along. I’m not sure.

Looking online for information about Bats in Colorado, I’m guessing from descriptions that we are looking at Big Brown Bats and Hoary Bats as likely possibilities. I’m certain I’ve heard the call of the Big Brown Bats at night when I lie there – awake.

Since we came home from our last trip to Yellowstone, there have been noticeably fewer moths under the shop light each morning. With all the fledglings around, I just assumed I probably wasn’t getting up early enough – or awake enough when it was early to really look at how many were there before daylight.

This morning I got an answer. Not many moths – at all – maybe a dozen I could count while standing at the kitchen window. But then I saw it. A moth fluttered up and – a bat snagged it in midair. At 5 AM while it was still quite dark outside.

Now I have even more questions about bats. Do they migrate? Or do they just hunker down in the area? Or both? Why – while we were gone – did they suddenly show up, or were they always here and we just had an enormous crop of moths this year? One day before the June trip, I counted nearly 200 moths on the shop. Now we have a dozen or so? A change definitely happened while we were gone. Did more move in after being shoved out of the area of the Waldo Canyon fire?

Questions that may or may not get an answer, but that’s where the learning starts.

 

2012 Friday Phenology – Week 23

My apologies for the delay in getting this report out. My only reason is that summer is here, and with that comes much busy-ness.

Summer IS here – heralded in this week with pollen from the Ponderosa Pine trees. Wednesday was the first day we noticed that all too familiar layer of yellow dust on the cars. The bird bath in the garden has a ring of yellow on it as well. And the heat and wind have been with us much of the week. That heat builds some rather amazing clouds right around us, and then moves them out east. What we see is amazingly gorgeous, but we also know that it means someone out there is getting pounded with that storm.

And that was the case this week with the hail and tremendous downpours that destroyed so much in Parker and Colorado Springs. I didn’t bring out the camera for the mammantus clouds, though they were gorgeous and many people in the Springs got to see them. They say they’re rare, but actually up here we see them quite often on the back ends of storms. I really should start making notes when we see them, but usually it’s when someone is really getting hammered from the storm. At sunset, they can be quite spectacular.

Mammantus Clouds at Sunset, July 2009

Birds

The main story this week was about the failure of the nest with the White Breasted Nuthatches. I now only occasionally hear a White Breasted Nuthatch around, so I think that pair may have gone their separate ways. The Violet-Green Swallows, though, are around often and house hunting. They have been eying the nest box we have on the west side of the house as well as the box the Nuthatches were in. They come in groups of 2, 4 or 6, all careening around in large circles, hovering in front of nest boxes and occasionally landing on top of them.

The bird box on the west side of the house has never been used, but it was put there after we sealed up the hole to a nest some tree swallows used a few years back that gave them access to the space above the upstairs bathroom. We’d come home from a June vacation to find them already nesting there, so let them finish. It was interesting to hear the baby birds hopping around on the other side of the drywall in the ceiling, but that really didn’t need to continue. The tree swallows looked at the replacement space and rejected it.

On a drive to town the other day, I saw what I thought were 3 ravens out in a cow pasture, walking along the ground. But on the trip back home, they had walked closer to the road and I could see they were three Turkey Vultures. I’m not sure if they walked all the way over, but I’ve seen them there, close to Divide quite a few times lately.

One evening this week, we sat out by the garden to end our day and while chatting, we started to talk about the various birds we hear around here. There’s been on twittering bird I haven’t been able to place, so I got out the iPad and started playing some bird songs from All About Birds. It turns out that it was a Slate Colored Dark Eyed Junco – who responded instantly to the call on the iPad. I played it again and it swooped down toward the source of the sound, but was obviously confused. Behind us a Band Tailed Pigeon was at the top of a pine tree cooing away, and we nailed down a few others as well that both of us have heard.

Mike had a chance to see a couple of Great Blue Herons out at one of the more remote reservoirs in the area when he was there for work this past week. That remote location would certainly be a desirable nesting area. He said they would fly around and land at the very top of a pine tree – which we’ve seen before, but it’s just an odd sight.

Deer

The deer have been caught on the trail cam a few times this week, but still no fawns. Instead, we have a doe that really looks quite uncomfortable at this point. They should be starting to drop fawns fairly soon.

Botanicals

With the heat we’ve had this week which seemed to trigger the pollen from the pine trees, and the lack of moisture in this area has started to dry up a lot of the plants. The weeds in the dog yard are down right crunchy to walk on. The wild iris are blooming everywhere there’s enough water for them and the showy locoweed is just starting on a decline. One batch I saw along the roadside was a deep, dark magenta. Most are white, to lavender to pink, but this deep magenta was the first I’ve seen so dark. Really lovely.

I’m hoping we can get out this week to a spot we visited last summer not far from here where it’s much more wet and check to see what all is blooming there.

Insects

The wasps and flies as well as the moths and butterflies have absolutely exploded in numbers this week.  The first horse flies were bothering the dogs as they enjoyed the cool breeze on the deck which had Taylor snapping at them as they flew around. She actually catches quite a few that way. Rhad, on the other hand, just prefers to head inside.

The day the White Breasted Nuthatches stopped feeding the babies was the day I noticed my first Sphinx Moth of the year, or I’m assuming it’s a Sphinx Moth simply because of the size. It was also on that day that I could resume taking moth photos in the mornings. With the babies growing, they were taking all the moths as quickly as they could each morning and I just gave up for the time being. I timed them one afternoon and they were feeding on average about every 4 minutes, and more often in the mornings, so the wall under the shop light was emptied out quickly. I still need to carve out some time to work on the moth photos taken this week.

I also noticed last weekend the rolled aspen leaves on the trees. Each contained something that was turning into a moth or butterfly. By the end of the week, they dried and fell to the ground, and all of them are empty. If I can find one, I may stick it in a jar to see what emerges. Also, the tent worms are still in their tents on the aspens.

Spruce worms are dangling mid air most everywhere around here. They drop down on thin silvery threads, then climb back up – and all the spruce trees seem to have the tips of the branches wrapped in threads. They are particularly thick this year.

So what’s happening in your neck of the woods? Take a few notes, snap a few photos. If you post to your blog, share a link! I love seeing what’s happening in other corners of this amazing world.

The Dangers of Observation

The more you observe the life around you, the more deeply you begin to look and to question in an effort to better understand. Once you really take time to just look, you’re in trouble because you’re hooked and want to learn more.  Spending time outside can be hazardous to video games and movies because it suddenly becomes infinitely more interesting. Especially when you record it.

Case in Point:

This is an insect that I’ve seen year after year – but over the past three or four years, I’ve tried to observe more closely. This year I finally got an acceptable shot to possibly ID these things. They’re tiny – the aspen leaves they’re on are only maybe 1/2″ to 1″ long. Their defense mechanism seems to be to just shift to the opposite side of the leaf. You even look at them too long and they get uneasy and move. That’s made capturing them with the macro camera a real challenge. But this year, I got the three stages I’ve seen them in. They only show up for a couple of weeks after the baby aspen leaves come out – it doesn’t matter when the leaves emerge – they’re on them soon after, seemingly soaking up the sun. I’ve never seen them eat a thing – just shift away from my view. The Mountain Chickadees, though, seem to love them and are hanging on the thinnest of aspen branches, moving from leaf to leaf  nibbling away.

Friday Phenology 4 May 2012

This week didn’t see me outside a whole lot as I had many deadlines to meet (or shift) that meant I was sitting here at the computer for a larger chunk of time than normal, but even busy, I managed to make a few observations. Some days I only headed out for 5 minutes or so, but that’s enough time to find something happening.

The nights are slowly getting warmer and we often can have the window open at least part of the night – and the other night I put my head close to the screen and listened carefully – and heard them. Frogs. Western Chorus Frogs. They’re in some ponds over one ridge from us, but their sounds echo all the way up to the bedroom window on these first warm nights. I’m always amazed at how much volume they can produce out of their tiny bodies. Those and the crickets singing are some of the sweetest night sounds of the spring.

Mike headed to some work up by Leadville for a couple of days and also heard these loud frogs up there. Also, the guys out that way said they’ve been seeing Moose in the upper Eagle valley on a fairly regular basis.  We have a few moose that have showed up this far south before – a couple of years back, a neighbor of ours saw the three that stopped traffic on Highway 24 just outside of Divide. I would be nice to have them show up around here more often – a nice compliment to the ecosystem here, I would think.

The White Breasted Nuthatches are still at work with the babies. However, I did see one of them yesterday evening sweeping something along the side of the birdhouse – but it finished before I could get the binoculars out to take a closer look. I read somewhere that they ‘sweep’ their home’s entry with nasty smelling beetles to keep predators at bay. I wondered if that was what it was doing. They still often beat me to the moths under the shop light in the mornings – or we’re out there at the same time. They show almost zero fear of me at this point and often come within inches of me as I quickly work to document who landed there overnight…and I suppose who will be their breakfast as soon as I leave. I do look on the bark of the tree next to the shop light for bugs where they start their breakfast foraging and haven’t yet seen anything, but they invariably come up with a few tidbits that my eyes missed. I’ll keep looking, though, as that’s the only way to train myself to see better.

Robins are out hopping along the ground many mornings, pausing to listen, then snagging whatever they do find on the ground to eat. I suspect they’re nesting again somewhere in the small valley or draw down on the shop side of our property, but I have yet to find a nest.

The carpenter ants are out and about and found often on the new aspen leaves which most of the aspens are now wearing – I’m amazed at how many insects can be found here in the spring.

The chipmunks are THICK as are the rabbits. One morning this week I counted 9 rabbits hopping about – well, it may have been the same one nine times, but seeing them that often means we’ve got to have predators find this cache sometime soon.

The deer move through every few days – it’s a group of 7 or 8 does and the largest, the ‘matriarch,’ is definitely looking pregnant as are a couple of others. We are looking at various places to move the trail cam to be more likely to catch them as we still are only getting domestic house cats who prowl the area for chipmunks and ground squirrels.

Last night something was on the deck sniffing at the trash can we’ve used for birdseed over the winter. I forgot to bring it in overnight last night and Taylor woke me up around 1 AM to let me know she was hearing something. By the time we got downstairs, whatever it was had left, but the dogs spent a good minute or so sniffing the deck and trash can. It was likely the raccoon as the lid was still on. I guess it’s time to wash that one out and move it to the shop and shift to something else for the feed that I still put out 1/2 C or so at a time. A few Evening Grosbeaks, Pine Siskens, the nuthatches (of all varieties) and the Clark’s Nutcracker usually come in the morning and eat most of it and finish it off throughout the day.

It’s bear season, and a neighbor of ours reported that a bear opened his garage door and got into their trash stored there. So, they’ll need to lock the garage door from now on as that one jackpot will remain in the bear’s memory for a long time.  We’re back on ‘bear time’ for the trash here – we have a dumpster, but won’t put anything that smells in until a couple of hours before the trash truck is due.

Kinninkinnik Flowers

Kinnikinnik

As for the flowers, the first of the pasque flowers that have so far survived the deer are going to seed, looking very much like Dr. Seuss’ tuftula trees. The cacti are all in full bloom  as are the Kinnikinnik flowers, but the candy tuft is fading. I spotted my first ‘Pussy Toes’ in bloom this morning and have seen quite a few wild strawberry blossoms around this week – saw the first ones last Sunday or Monday.

That’s the nature news from this neck of the Colorado woods – what’s happening where you are? Not sure, head out and see!

Share a comment or link to what your observations!

This post also shared with the Rural Thursday Blog Hop.



Friday Phenology 20 April 2012

Happy Friday! Time for a Friday Phenology report for the Pikes Peak Region:

The White Breasted Nuthatches are definitely on eggs, and there are definitely three of them working on that. The largest of the three, I’m assuming an older male – he’s actually quite a bit larger than the others generally takes up his post on top of the bird box, often dozing there. The other afternoon when Mike drove in the driveway, it caught him napping and he generally acted like someone saying, “I’m awake! I’m awake…where am I? What’s going on?” I’ve also had to rush out in the morning to check what landed overnight under the shop light because he’s out there already. So far this year, not a whole lot of variety of moths, and they all look like the same variety. Some mornings there are one or two, others seven to ten. The nuthatches are also finding some moths in the bark on the trunk of a tree next to that mercury vapor light, but no matter how hard I look, I’m not seeing them. Whatever they find, though, they share with one on the nest.

The insects are increasing in number, so the amount of food consumed at the bird feeder has dropped rather significantly. I’m down to the last of the birdseed and likely will let it be the last bag as the neighbor mentioned one of her dogs reacted the other night with the “I’m going to eat you!” bark she saves for bears. Normally it’s not a big deal for them when she does this in the middle of the night (other than waking them up), but over the winter she’s learned how to open the sliding glass door with her mouth (she’s a BIG dog) and this time they were racing her to the door.

I have put up the hummingbird feeder, but have yet to hear any. I even checked eBird this morning and there hasn’t been one report in Colorado yet. It does seem like the rush to spring this year has slowed its pace a bit. The earliest my phenology records for the first hummingbird heard was last year, on April 21. Next earliest is on April 25 for both 1993 and 2003. First in 2007 was on April 27 and in 2000 the first was heard on April 28. So, we’re definitely in the first part of the window of opportunity to hear the first scouts coming in.

Last weekend we had a good wet, spring snow. On the deck we had about 7″ total, but the ground had less since it’s already warmed up so much. That snow melted through the week working  it’s magic like a color wash – as it melts, it leaves behind a slightly deeper green tint to the fields. The moisture has numerous pasque flowers showing up as well as a ton of candy tuft and a couple of flowers I’ve yet to identify – one so very tiny I’m going to have to sketch as a macro shot with the camera won’t show it clearly, though I’ll give it a try. Dandelions opened up all over this week and almost every one had a fly or insect on it. Looking closer, I did find an open bloom of Kinnikinnik as well.

The deer around here are starting to lose their winter coats, not heavily, but they definitely have a rough quality to them with hair starting to stick out at odd angles. But I guess that’s part of the waking up for summer look they have. I’ve also not seen one with antlers this week, but we mainly have a small group of does that hang out here right now. There are some bucks that hang out a few roads over – I’ll have to head over there sometime this week to see if they’ve shed their antlers.

So what’s happening in your neck of the woods? Link to a blog post or leave a comment!

(This post also shared on the Rural Thursday Blog Hop)



First Insect Under the Shop Light

I’ve been checking for a few days now – today and yesterday got up into the low 60′s here – insanely warm when you KNOW there are still snows to come. But here it was – the first insect on the wall of the shop under the mercury vapor light:

This will be printed and added to my Project Life album. The graphic with “Life is Good” came from Becky Higgins’ Clementine Elements digital kit with the center words erased/masked out.

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